The expletives you may hear while watching Jersey Girl won’t be coming from its characters. Die-hard Kevin Smith fans—the mall rats, the clerks, the unapologetic fingercuffs—will likely sit through his latest, a meditation on the parent-child relationship, with stunned Beavis and Butt-head looks on their faces. And then start swearing. A lot.
The film’s PG-13 rating should be a tipoff that it’s something of a departure, but this Very Special Episode with the ill-fated Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez is hardly even on the director’s map. All the speculation that Jersey Girl might be Gigli II—a theory that Smith himself tried to dispel by announcing loudly and proudly that J.Lo dies minutes into the movie—took everyone’s focus off the more troubling issue: that Silent Bob has gone sentimental.
Affleck plays Ollie Trinke, a successful New York publicist whose life is going swimmingly when his new wife, Gertrude (Lopez), dies in childbirth. Ollie largely ignores his infant daughter, expecting his dad (George Carlin) to take care of her as he focuses on his career. After he loses his temper at a press conference, however, Ollie gets fired and is ostracized by the industry, and is thus forced to move into his father’s New Jersey home and, y’know, re-evaluate his priorities.
Ollie works out his issues in a tearful monologue to his smiling baby girl, who also gazes lovingly—or at least gassily—at a photo of her mom hanging in the crib. Jersey Girl then jumps ahead seven years: Ollie is still living with his dad, but he’s now best buds with daughter Gertie (Raquel Castro) and has found employment as…a street sweeper.
Smith’s edge is softened but not entirely absent in Jersey Girl, and in fact some of its funniest scenes result from his kid-friendly handling of the birds and the bees. These are also the scenes in which the adorable Castro outplays ’em all: Her confused and subtly disapproving look when a neighborhood boy shows her his, um, special purpose and flat-out shocked reaction to catching Dad in the shower with the video-store clerk (Liv Tyler) are fresh moments that briefly save the movie from staleness.
Carlin, who distressingly seems to age 10 years with every new role, looks uncomfortable in a part that morphs from Joisey-tough/ignorant (“Da Cats is a show?”) to desperately emotional (when asked whether he wants to live alone, he says, “Not as much as I don’t want to die alone”). Affleck, too, isn’t entirely convincing as a man on the verge. Though he easily tosses off Smith’s trademark sarcasm—such as telling Gertie that Grandpa’s “talking to make sure he’s still alive”—he turns stiff when asked to show emotion, whether Ollie’s breaking down in tears (which happens twice) or agonizing over whether to put his career or his daughter first. (But really, how likely is it that even the most inexperienced and stressed-out dad would tell a ’tudin’ 7-year-old, “I hate you more, you little shit! You and mommy took my life away and I want it back!”?)
Worse, Jersey Girl gradually devolves into the kind of movie you’d expect the potty-mouthed director to despise. (Though he’s not the only one who gets points off for bad behavior: Shame on Bruce Springsteen for lending the 9/11 anthem “My City of Ruins” to something Bennifer.) Smith’s done squishy before, of course, with the heartfelt love story Chasing Amy. In Jersey Girl, though, there’s no Banky to roll his eyes and curse when things start to get trite. That leaves it up to the audience—and by the time Ollie sheds his jacket to sprint through the streets in the clichéd daughter’s-play-vs.-daddy’s-job scene, you’ll be ready to let the expletives fly.
Intermission, by contrast, isn’t burdened by expectation—which makes its success all the more pleasant. The debut effort of director John Crowley and writer Mark O’Rowe, it’s that rare achievement of the post–Pulp Fiction age: a movie that’s equal parts quirkiness and grit without feeling blatantly derivative.
Set in contemporary Ireland, Intermission closely resembles another of that country’s recent exports, Elizabeth Gill’s Goldfish Memory. Both use an ensemble cast and intersecting story lines to muse about modern love and human connections in general. Among Intermission’s dozen main characters are John (Cillian Murphy), a grocery-store employee who broke up with his girlfriend, Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald), to “test” her; John’s best friend, Oscar (David Wilmot), who’s desperately seeking companionship; Noeleen (Deirdre O’Kane), a wife who’s left brokenhearted and confused when her husband, Sam (Michael McElhatton), suddenly moves in with Deirdre; Deirdre’s mustachioed sister, Sally (Shirley Henderson), who’s withdrawn herself from the world since a relationship went south; and Jerry (Colm Meaney), a renegade cop bloated with notions of his own toughness.
Oh yeah: Colin Farrell’s in it, too, though the actor’s ability to play well with others is as surprising as his character’s absolute refusal to. Farrell’s Lehiff, a petty criminal full of smartass swagger, fades into the background after Intermission’s opening scene, in which an apparent come-on abruptly turns violent. Indeed, Farrell’s luxuriating in his full-on (and nearly indecipherable) Irishness is enough to convince you that he’s just another of the film’s lesser-knowns.
Though mostly lighthearted in tone, dominated by O’Rowe’s witty dialogue and running gags, Intermission has a way of suddenly shifting: A montage cutting between Noeleen looking at an empty closet, John finding a bra in his couch, and Oscar jerking off to porn captures the loneliness of the characters with unexpected punch, and random acts of violence, mostly courtesy of a young rock-throwing hellion (Taylor Molloy), disrupt the action whenever things get too cozy.
Rather than making Intermission a schizophrenic mess, however, its mood swings seem to reflect the humanity of its fully realized characters. The most enjoyable ones are the most melancholy, such as Noeleen, who seeks out a “pick-me-up” affair and then realizes that the anger she’s unleashing in increasingly violent lovemaking sessions would be better directed toward her no-good husband, and Sally, who’s both the movie’s moral mouthpiece and a heartbreaking example of how bitterness can wither a person.
Crowley’s jittery camera is a less effective attempt to keep things real, and certain plot lines do trudge toward predictable conclusions. But not pat ones: Just when Jerry, whose confidence is briefly tested in a standoff with Lehiff, is shown insufferably telling himself that he “has the power!,” Intermission’s swift and satisfying conclusion knocks his world off-kilter again. In fact, no one here ends up in an unquestionably happily-ever-after situation: Each resolution comes with an asterisk—which isn’t how it should be, but how it is. CP